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Israel's renewal of law restricting family unification condemned as 'apartheid'

June 13, 2017 2:40 P.M. (Updated: June 14, 2017 12:26 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, renewed the controversial “Citizenship and Entry into Israel” law, which sets severe limitations on Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory married to Israeli citizens, for the 14th year on Monday, as Palestinian members of parliament denounced the move as “racist” and a show of “apartheid” against Palestinian citizens of Israel.

The law was extended by a vote of 57 in favor and 16 against, according to a statement released by the Knesset.

The law applies to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip, and foreign nationals from Iran, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq -- and can apply to other nationalities originating from countries the Israeli government deems a security threat.

However, the law has primarily affected Palestinian citizens of Israel, making up 20 percent of the Israeli population, who often marry Palestinians from the occupied West Bank.

Although the Israeli Supreme Court prevented the provision from being introduced as permanent legislation, the Israeli government has renewed the temporary security measure every year since 2004.

'Collective punishment'

The law was revised in 2005 to allow for Israel’s military commander to grant exemptions to Palestinian women older than 25 and Palestinian men over 35 from the occupied West Bank. However, according to Israeli rights group Hamoked, the permits would only be temporary and would not provide married civil status or any social security rights.

In addition, those eligible for a temporary entry or remain permit in Israel must undergo a thorough security check at least every year and can be denied entry into Israel if they are deemed a “security threat,” a policy which Hamoked has called “collective punishment,” as a Palestinian’s application can be denied if a member of their extended family is considered a “security risk.”

A statement released by Amnesty International in February noted that these “security risks” are broadly defined and can include throwing a stone at an Israeli soldier and being involved in any political activities in the Palestinian territory.

Knesset member (MK) and chairman of Israel’s foreign affairs and defense committee Avi Dichter from the right-wing Likud party said that the law was necessary “in light of the involvement of Palestinians in terror attacks,” and the fact that “Israeli identity cards allow their holders free movement.”

The statement added that the recent escalation of violence in the occupied territory and Israel since 2015 saw a “significant increase in the involvement in terror of family members of citizens or legal residents who had been brought into Israel,” under family reunification. The claim was a reiteration of justifications provided in previous years that had been rejected by Palestinian parliament members, as many of the attacks were carried out by Palestinians with Jerusalem residency, which are not affected by the family unification ban.

It remained unclear why the law was being extended if, according to the Knesset's own statement, its implementation for more than a decade was not proven to prevent Palestinians from committing such attacks in Israel.

MK Ahmad Tibi from the Joint List political bloc, representing parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel, slammed the law as “anti-democratic,” and added that five Israeli Supreme Court judges had voiced their opposition to the law.

The law “treats a love story between Palestinians from opposite sides of the Green Line as a plot against the Zionist entity,” Tibi said.

MK Masud Ganaim, also from the Joint List, called the law “collective punishment,” adding that Palestinian families were “suffering from poverty because of this law. It is time to consider the humanitarian aspects.”

The law ”has nothing to do with security, only racism,” MK Abd al-Hakim Hajj Yahya from the Joint List added. "There has not been an intifada for many years. The UN and the European Union have called on the government to annul the law. The US Foreign Office has mentioned it as one of the most racist laws.”

'Apartheid' in the Jewish state

MK Abdullah Abu Maaruf from Joint List also claimed that the law was “not only racist,” but was also “apartheid against the Arab citizens of the state. It is not just me who says this; it is also the High Court of Justice (Supreme Court).”

Human Rights Watch noted in 2012 the stark imbalances inherent in Israel’s national immigration policies when applied to Palestinian citizens of Israel and when applied to Jewish citizens.

In addition to the Israeli government automatically granting non-Jewish foreign nationals Israeli residency or citizenship over four-year periods if married to a Jewish citizen of Israel, any Jewish person is granted automatic citizenship in Israel regardless of marital status under Israel’s 1950 Law of Return, the rights group highlighted.

MK Yousif Jabarin from the Joint List commented that the law displayed the contradiction of claiming to be a democracy and a Jewish state. “If my son falls in love with a Palestinian woman, this law says he cannot live with her in his own country. Therefore, it tells the Arab citizen, 'it is either your family or your country.' Then people ask what is discriminatory about a Jewish state.”

The so-called “left-wing” Zionist camp also condemned the law’s renewal, with MK Zuheir Bahloul saying that “love will eventually triumph. Mixed marriages will take place in Israel. Do not fear the demographic issue, because no one is planning any deals or plots against the state. Let love win.”

Israel's law breaking up Palestinian families

Amnesty International and other rights groups have repeatedly pointed out that the Israeli legislation is in contravention of international law.

Amnesty International explained in a 2017 statement the hardships Palestinians face even when granted the temporary permit, as each year, Palestinians temporarily residing in Israel or Jerusalem must face the risk that their status will not be renewed owing to political activities or the activities of their family members. The process is also extremely costly, as Palestinians often must hire lawyers to assist them with the process.

The law has broken up thousands of Palestinian families, according to rights groups.

According to a 2016 report by the Israeli daily Haaretz, 9,900 Palestinians, including 247 minors, had no legal status in Israel owing to the law’s restrictions.

Meanwhile, Palestinians holding Jerusalem residency have their own status in Jerusalem threatened if they decide to move to the occupied Palestinian territory to join their family, as Palestinians in Jerusalem face revocation of their residency status if they are unable to prove their “center of life” has remained in Jerusalem.

“Israel must fulfill its international legal obligations without discrimination based on national, ethnic or other grounds. The Israeli authorities must repeal this discriminatory law and ensure the right to family life and other human rights of all individuals without discrimination,” Amnesty International said.
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